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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

My Students

Steve Porter
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The Boomerangs were a bunch of rowdy ten-year-old boys. ‘Boomerang’ was the name of the book they studied and unfortunately for me they always came back. Some kids had Catalan names like Joan, a boy’s name, pronounced ‘Jo-anne.’ There was also Jordi who had the look of a choirboy. He had a blonde bowl cut and blue eyes but he was far from an angel. He always wheeled a trolley containing his books into class, which contrasted with his macho behaviour.

Pokemon were popular and I motivated the class by giving away the discs, which came free in crisp packets. Every day at the beginning of class, me and the boys would compare or swap our discs. They fought hard for these until one day, when Jordi said he had collected them all and then the rest of the lads lost interest.

Jordi loved drawing. At Halloween he drew an angry looking cat with a needle sticking out of its arm. The caption below said in a hybrid of Spanish and Valencian: Pull the fleas out of me and I’ll kill you.

I can picture little Jordi now, growing into a lanky teenager, a tortured artist, smoking crack and spraying graffiti on the banks of the Vinalopó river.

At least the Boomerangs were typical kids and I knew what to expect from them. But another group didn’t behave like teenagers at all. Classes could be deathly silent and laughter was rare. I wondered what I had done to be despised so much. I soon learned that this notorious group had been named ‘the Grumps’ by their previous teacher. It was as if Spain’s ten most introverted kids had been selected for psychoanalysis. I tried everything to bring them out of their shells but nothing worked. One day, full of the cold, I explained to them that I would not be able to do much talking. They all nodded sympathetically, like mourners at a funeral. I popped a cough sweet into my mouth. I was croaking, “What you have to do today is…” when the cough sweet fell from my mouth and shattered on the floor. I laughed. No one else did.

It was often a relief to get them out and bring in Álvaro and Sabrina; two fourteen year olds. Álvaro was a fat kid with glasses. He reminded me somehow of a Cheshire cat. Álvaro liked to impress the tall and pretty Sabrina with his wit.

He asked me how old I was.

“Thirty,” I said.

“No way.”

Nudging Sabrina, and thinking I wouldn’t understand, he added, “They age quickly in England, no?”

He was the type who always seemed disinterested and lethargic, but in fact he paid attention and knew his stuff. He always arrived five minutes late for class. Looking out of the window, I would be sure to see him at the crossing where he would give me a casual wave. Once in class he would look for any excuse for a break and liked games, especially those where we pretended to use money. I could see him turning into a compulsive gambler. He went to watch the local football club but liked Real Madrid too. It is normal for provincial supporters to follow their local club and either Real Madrid or Barcelona.

As Sabrina was also quite sporty we made predictions for the coming weekend’s matches. We did this in English so that it became a regular part of the Friday class. At the same time I picked up some useful Spanish slang from them. On one occasion the class was interrupted by the sound of a siren from the street below.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Los monos,” said Álvaro.

Sabrina laughed. I went for a look.

“I don’t see any monkeys.”

Hombre,” he said, “It’s what we call the police.”

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationDecember 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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